When it comes to drug use problems, inhalants are often the first drugs that young children decide to experiment with. The habit is often called huffing. While use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, and other drugs peaks around the 12th grade, inhalant use peaks in the 8th grade. A study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 17.3% of 8th graders have abused inhalants before.
Many kids start inhalant use by accident; they like the smell of glue, whiteout, or gasoline, take a long inhale, get high, and keep going. For others, inhalant use is introduced through friends.
Attaining drugs can somewhat of a challenge when you are 13 years old. Inhalants solve this problem. Inhalants are found in a variety of household products including: spray paint, nail polish remover, whiteout, marker, gasoline, glue, keyboard cleaner, shoe polish, and aerosol sprays. These products are easy to buy and relatively inexpensive, even for kids. Many times they can be easily found in the house, which also makes them easy to hide.
Inhalants can be breathed in directly or concentrated in a container such as a plastic bag or cloth and then inhaled. Most inhalants work by depressing the central nervous system. The chemicals are absorbed through the lungs and proceed into the bloodstream, where they reach the brain and other organs. Symptoms of inhalant intoxication are something similar to being drunk: Slurred speech, bad coordination, euphoria, dizziness, and drowsiness are common.
The inhalant high only lasts a few minutes, so people often use inhalants repeatedly for several hours. This can have some devastating long-term effects. Brain damage, nerve damage, and organ damage are all possible. Inhalant use can impair vision, hearing, and movement. Inhalant use is also linked with a variety of mental disorders, including antisocial personality disorder and depression. In pregnant animals, inhalant use has been linked to low birth weight, skeletal abnormalities, and delayed development.
Most tragically, even a single session of inhalant use can cause heart failure and consequently, death. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition reports 100 to 125 inhalant-related deaths per year. This is particularly sad considering the fact that many of these individuals haven’t even left middle school yet.
1. Seigial, J.T., Alvaro, E.M., Patel, N., Crano, W.D. (2009) “…you would probably want to do it. Cause that’s what made them popular.” Exploring Perceptions of Inhalant Utility Among Young Adolescent Nonusers and Occasional Users. Substance Use & Misuse. 44(597-615)
2. NIDA. Inhalant Abuse. 2005
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